This article contains spoilers.
Over the course of three seasons, the writers of HBO’s “Succession” have cleverly used wine to portray the rotten nature of the Roy family and — on a grander scale — the corruptive quality of power and money.
Most famously, viewers were introduced to the notion of “hyperdecanting,” or sticking a thousand-dollar bottle of Burgundy into a restaurant-grade food blender to soften tannins, heighten aromas, and “age the wine five years in 10 seconds.”
The scene hardly required a Vitamix to coax out its multiple meanings: Money doesn’t bring class or culture; when you’re filthy rich, you expect everything here and now; and if you’re sticking Grand Cru Burgundy in a blender, you’re operating on the same level as Connor Roy.
Wine-loving viewers have had much to savor during the ongoing season three. In episode one, Cousin Greg caused a scene after unwittingly (or not?) opening a priceless bottle of Ribera del Duero, from the famed producer Dominio de Pingus. In episode four, when contemplating the prospect of impending jail time, Tom made clear his priorities and delivered among the season’s best one-liners, telling wife Shiv: “I got deep into the prison blogs about toilet wine.”
But it was this Sunday’s episode, “What It Takes,” that served the season’s best wine moment to date. Once again, the interaction took place between Tom and Shiv. However, this scene may have also offered a glimpse into the oenological preferences of Succession’s writers and, most importantly, answered: are they anti or pro natural wine?
After the Roys travel to Virginia to ostensibly select the next U.S. president, the show’s only “steady” couple are sat in their hotel room when Tom opens a bottle from their very own German vineyard. For a brief moment, it seems like Tom might finally be able to distract himself from thoughts of serving time. “It’s the Spätburgunder,” he tells Shiv excitedly. “Our vineyard!”
But happy moments are fleeting at best for the show’s protagonists, and true to form, the tasting quickly turns sour. First comes Tom’s immediate disappointment upon discovering that the wine has a screw cap. Undeterred, he pours two glasses.
“So it’s biodynamic,” he tells Shiv, who’s sidetracked watching a news broadcast on an iPad, and apparently couldn’t care less about their first vintage. “It has quite a funk to it,” Tom adds, nose deep in glass and frown rising on his face.
“You kind of have to meet it halfway, right?” Tom says, after both parties take a grimace-inducing first sip. “It’s earthy…kind of Germanic?” Shiv replies.
“There’s lots to unpack,” Tom agrees. “It’s not floral. It’s not sugary, or vegetal. It’s quite agricultural, you know, it’s, it’s, uh …” Finally, he concedes defeat. “It’s not very nice, the wine, is it, Shiv?”
While others have pointed out that the scene is a pithy metaphor for the couple’s marriage, it’s hard to look past the moment as also being a dig at natural wine. The screw cap reference is likely just a jab at Tom’s snobbishness, but the choice of grape variety is a natty bullseye.
One doesn’t need to venture too far into Brooklyn to encounter a bottle of Spätburgunder on the menu of a natural wine bar. Hang around for a hot minute, and you might just hear some variation of: “You know, it’s actually pronounced ‘schpaht-bur-goonder,’ which is literally just the German name for Pinot Noir.”
And what about those descriptors: earthy; funky; having to meet the wine halfway? Surely that’s just a polite way of saying “how much did we invest in this brettanomyces-infected bottle of crap?”
An all-too-common problem these days, indeed.
If the scene is an intentional swipe at the low- and no-sulfite movement, at least the episode’s writer, Will Tracy, didn’t have to stretch too far for inclusion.
With his deep desire to simply be liked, Tom would no doubt gravitate toward something hip like biodynamic Spätburgunder. At the same time, this is a guy who’s willing to continue in a loveless marriage, and even go to prison, just to stay in the money. Whether he wants to admit it or not, Tom’s a Napa Cab guy or First Growth Bordeaux bro.
So this does seem like pure trolling from Tracy, who also happens to be the former editor in chief of The Onion. Either way, no amount of hyperdecanting will save the 2021 vintage of Weingut Roy-Wambsgans.